Synopses & Reviews
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act(NAGPRA) of 1990 provides a legal framework within which Native Americans can seekthe repatriation of human remains and certain categories of culturalobjects--including sacred objects--from federally funded institutions. Althoughthe repatriation movement among Native Americans has heretofore received scholarlyattention specifically focused on this act, Sacred Claims is the first book toanalyze the ways in which religious discourse is used to articulate repatriationclaims. Greg Johnson takes this act as one instance in a larger context whereinnative peoples around the globe must engage legal arenas in order to preserve theirheritage.
Methodologically, Sacred Claims is basedon a close reading of government documents concerning the law and participantobservation in a variety of NAGPRA-related events and provides the background andlegislative history of the law, the life history of the act's axial term culturalaffiliation (the most delicate and least understood aspect of NAGPRA), and severalcase studies of highly visible and contentious Hawaiian repatriation disputes.Johnson then moves beyond the strictly legal context to analyze NAGPRA discourse inthe public realm. He concludes by way of a theoretical treatment of the foregoingissues, arguing that religious language was the chief means by which nativerepresentatives ultimately persuaded non-native audiences of the applicability ofwidely-held human rights principles to their cultural remains. Theorizing modes ofcultural vitality in the repatriation context, Johnson argues that living traditionis not found in the objects themselves but is instead located in struggles overthem.
With the law on the brink of receivingcrucial tests, and repatriation issues making daily headlines in Native American andHawaiian news, Sacred Claims is a timely and necessary examination of theseissues.